Guilt by association

I am sorry to burden you, but this is fair notice that I will be sending out morality/patriotism questionnaires to all my friends. I do not want to be blindsided in the future and accused of guilt by association, which is the trendy thing this presidential campaign season.

It used to be that an American could make friends based on his (or her) assessment of someone’s character without regard to what other people, including the government, thought about it. Not any more.

Before common sense fled screaming from the national stage, it was understood that you could look into a person’s eyes, as President Bush famously did with Vladimir Putin, despite a sinister black cloud hovering over him, and thereby get a sense of his soul and decide that this was someone who could be dealt with on friendly terms.

(OK, it’s not the best example, but Bush got the principle right and it wasn’t his fault that Putin was secretly wearing those special soul-obscuring contacts that fateful day.) The truth is all of us do personal character assessments of other people and we trust our own senses before the indictments of society, which is decent of us in a judge-not-and-be-not-judged sort of way.

That is why my own friends include scoundrels who have not always been in good odor with polite society, who have been shameless in love and reckless in finances, who have drunk too much, who have been wrong-headed, unkempt and generally obnoxious. But enough about my old pals in journalism, lovable rascals all.

I am proud to say that my circle of friendly lowlifes has extended to many walks of life, with one exception. That blessed spot is where I now make my home, the borough of Sewickley, where I can vouch everybody lives an upright life because, as Mrs. Henry has so wisely and threateningly said, "We have to live here." Even there, if I may be so daring, I have friends who have been slow in returning their library books.

It is true that none of my friends has been accused of serious crimes that involve trying to start a revolution resulting in some deaths; the shadiest of my friends have only been revolting.

And that brings us — as you knew it would — to former domestic terrorist William Ayers, sometime acquaintance of Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president. Note that I did not say friend because I reckon friends do not get other friends to serve on community boards, as the old Weatherman did to Barack Obama. A man could die of boredom on one of those boards.

As Sen. Obama himself has said, he was 8 years old when William Ayers was making a violent ass of himself. He is a free man because the government bungled the case and he became over the years an honored member of the Chicago community.

So the decent thing for Obama to do was to shun him? So much for the Christian belief in redemption. So much for anybody’s commonsensical belief that people can change and do good after doing bad.

Of course, none of Obama’s critics really believes in redemption or personal growth. All principles go out the window when your candidate is behind in the polls. That’s the time to bear false witness and hate your enemies.

In the same hypocritical vein, none of them is likely to remember that the Bush administration allowed Osama bin Laden’s relatives to leave the country right after 9/11 — Osama bin Laden’s relatives! — or that the Bush family has coddled Cuban terrorists opposed to Fidel Castro. After all, there are terrorists and there are terrorists and the only ones to get upset about are ancient ones, long rehabilitated if not unambiguously repentant, who had a coffee klatch for a rising young Democrat.

Of course, I wish Obama had never met William Ayers or sat in a pew of the church of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but if you go out in any community where library book tardiness is not the worst crime, you meet different sorts of people if you are not prissy or elitist. Sometimes you make passing alliances with them and the only real significance is that you haven’t lived an absurdly sheltered life, which is a good thing for any would-be leader in an imperfect world.

Still, I have learned my lesson, so I am sending out questionnaires about moral fitness to all my old buds. I have also decided to send one to Jesus Christ, who I am shocked to learn sat down with many unsavory sinners. The nerve of Him!


(Reg Henry is a columnist with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His email address is